The Secret of Comedy
The first complete recording made at his new state-of-the-art 24track recording facility NOISE NEW JERSEY (located 10 minutes outside of NYC), THE GUILT TRIP, is a monumental opus. 36 songs recorded with stalwart drummer David Licht and high school chum Randy Hudson, the triple-LP's cover art (also issued on a Double-CD) is satirically styled after George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass", and is structured with a complete understanding on the pacing of six sides of music. Functioning both musically and literally like a 3D chess set on multiple planes, it is also a complexly subtle nod to Herman Melville. Sonically, Kramer layers on an array of hot-wired psychedelia and sandwiched ambiance...some of it grafted to simple pop song structures, some of it to grand instrumental overtures. Created during an emotionally violent period in his personal life (he was simultaneously going through a divorce while weathering a $5M lawsuit brought against him by Ann Magnuson at the time), lyrically, it's a highly personal work that throws revenge, love, devotion, forgiveness and atonement into the mix. He often refers to it as his "exorcism", insisting that he would not have survived the multiple traumas he was fighting without it. The healing power of Art is a constant theme of this huge piece of work.
Although Kramer had planned a trilogy of triple-LP's, what followed instead in 1994 was The Secret of Comedy, a conventional-length single album bereft of the weighty literary foundations of its enormous predecessor. "I set out to make the 2nd part of the triple trilogy, but once i'd completed the first two LP sides, I clearly saw that it had a beginning and an end, and I instinctively knew it was a complete work. I work spontaneously. If my plans don't proceed as planned, I abandon the plan."
The Secret Of Comedy stands alone as a darkly humorous but essentially "pop" work laced with Kramer's catchy songs and brimming with lyrical surprises that seem more universally accessible in comparison to The Guilt Trip, while maintaining the found-sounds and surrealist text manipulations that made The Guilt Trip and literally all of Kramer's output as an audio artist and producer so uniquely other-worldly. Featured prominently throughout this LP is the most sensitive percussion work of BILL BACON's long career. The first song on this LP, "Nine Minus Seven Is Two", is considered by many (Penn Jillette first and foremost) to be the very best example of Kramer's pop songwriting sensibilities. The 6th song, "I Can Watch", is considered by Kramer himself to be, "...the most truthfully naked song I have ever written."
Kramer's third solo LP (and the final part of the trilogy), SONGS FROM THE PINK DEATH, is a dark and deeply introspective work of suspended shadows in a subterranean world of his own inner demons. The exorcism comes home. More atypically "vulnerable" and brutally evocative than either of his previous solo releases, it features heartbreaking ballads alongside full-colour, succinct sonic statements that defy earthly description. It is a radical departure in tone from the previous two releases, thanks in great part to the musical contributions of ex-Galaxie 500 drummer Damon Krukowski and ex-Luna guitarist Sean Eden, each of whom donated some of their career-best work on this LP. Though it maintains signature moments of Kramer's unique sense of sarcasm, it is not for the faint of heart.
It was also during the 90's that Kramer and magician Penn Jillette (the larger/louder half of Penn & Teller) collaborated on two LP's and calling themselves THE CAPTAIN HOWDY, with friends Deborah Harry, Billy West, Bill Bacon and others adding vocals, guitars, percussion, etc...The collaboration ended when Jillette moved permanently to Las Vegas in 1998, where Penn & Teller have been the hottest show in town ever since.
Like a musical chameleon, Kramer completely shed his pop/indie skin for his next two solo releases, which were both commissioned by John Zorn for his new Tzadik label.
Coming first in 1998 (and featuring the extraordinary contributions of violist Deni Bonet) LET ME EXPLAIN SOMETHING TO YOU ABOUT ART comprises three compositions that take the listener deep into a Proustian world of memory, loss and longing. A wholly unsentimental meditation on aging and an imaginary soundtrack for the dying, it is quite possibly Kramer's most emotional work; an internal journey that begins in a world we all recognize as our own, and ends in a Kubrickian landscape as alien to us as the final scenes of "2001; A Space Odyssey". As Zorn himself stated, "Kramer has now come into his own as a composer."
Followed in 2003 by THE GREENBERG VARIATIONS, this is a work as different from its predecessor as can be imagined. While "Let Me Explain..." was the result of being given free reign by Zorn to submit any work he considered meaningful for a Tzadik release, The Greenberg Variations was commissioned specifically as a tribute to one of America's greatest baseball players, Hank Greenberg, aka; "The Jewish Babe Ruth". Seeing a satirical parallel with the two distinctly yet subtly contrasting recordings which sandwiched Glenn Gould's life & career, "The Goldberg Variations", Kramer set to work in marrying his personal love of the great game of baseball with his creative adeptness for juxtaposition of form and content. Creating musical motif's mirroring Greenberg's mastery over every pitch thrown by every pitcher he faced in his career, the resulting suite of musical "pitches" is like nothing Kramer had done before. As stated in the Tzadik literature...,"The dreamy tones of mellotrons, organs and other vintage keyboards (both real and imaginary) drift you off into a magical world where the baroque meets minimalism and anything is possible."
Kramer did not create another LP of "pop" music until (in 2012) he completed 7 years of work on THE BRILL BUILDING, commissioned once again (in 2005) by John Zorn for his Tzadik Label. For those who say Kramer was always at his very best when re-imagining the classics songs of our times, this latest collection offers strong evidence for that claim. A surreal yet solidly grounded tribute to the building itself and the songwriters who began their long careers there in the early 1960's, it contains 10 songs by Neil Diamond, Carole King & Gerry Goffin, Phil Spector & Harry Nilsson, Doc Pomus, Lieber & Stoller, and others whose songwriting skills changed the face of American music while also changing the world. Kramer's deconstructed renderings of these classic hit songs are made by him in his own image, while miraculously maintaining the spirit in which they were created. A time-capsule of the 60's and the artistic culmination of over 30 years as one of America's most vital "indie" producers, is this the greatest work of Kramer's long and varied career? It's certainly bound to be seen as the most fun, and perhaps the most accessible. Humor and heartbreak ride side-by-side on this rollicking gallop into a purple 60's sunset.
Oddly (or perhaps not so oddly at all), Kramer's two biggest-selling downloads on iTunes were both written by Neil Diamond; first as a producer for Urge Overkill on their hit 1993 single, GIRL, YOU'LL BE A WOMAN SOON (for Quentin Tarantino's Palme D'Or winner, PULP FICTION), and most recently in Kramer's own voice, with his Cubano version of CHERRY CHERRY, from his most joyous and joyful collection of songs; THE BRILL BUILDING.
For more on The Brill Building, go HERE